Into shared decision-making: A case study of an educational innovation

Andrew Dowling, Fordham University


A study of mankind's development and history reveals that change is essential to its expansion and greater adaptation to life. In education, however, innovation has always been suspect. The natural flow of change through a process of gradual assimilation and accommodation appears most suitable to education, which thrives on carrying the successive generations of youngsters safely across the bridge to adulthood. The innovation under study is the implementation of shared decision making in a school district. This model of participatory management that emanates from the corporate sector was, in this case, mandated by the New York State Education Department in a document entitled A New Compact for Learning (Sobol, 1991). The focus of the study is the change process as it relates to this newly imposed system of governance. The study seeks to resolve the dilemma of mandating structural change in order to bring about cultural change. Cultural change should drive structural change, rather than the corollary, but waiting for culture to change may result in stagnation. The samples in this case study were parents, teachers, and administrators who were involved in the school district's change process. Data were gathered from participant observations, in-depth interviews, examination of surveys, and journals that were maintained by informants throughout the year-long study. Four distinct domains emerged from the data: trust, cost, need, and difference. (1) Trust: One of the main impediments to successful implementation of the innovation was a high degree of mistrust between parents and teachers. (2) Cost: The slow pace of progress and the inordinate amount of time required to complete ordinary tasks was perceived to be a high cost in relation to the minimal benefits of the new model of governance. (3) Need: There was a general sense that the need for the change did not exist. The mandate from the State Education Department created the change rather than an internal perceived need. (4) Difference: As a result of the innovation, there was little cultural change and no school improvement observed. The findings of the study suggest that a mandated structural change will not bring about cultural change in a school district unless there is a strong perceived need for the change. Recommendations included restructuring the site-based teams by designating a specific curriculum-related role for each teacher and a communication role for each parent. The teachers on the teams would perform other functions related to their curriculum area as well and be granted a stipend for the work. This format would create a bridge between the work of the team and the curriculum activities of the building. It would also provide the team members with a level of esteem that was lacking.

Subject Area

School administration|Occupational psychology

Recommended Citation

Dowling, Andrew, "Into shared decision-making: A case study of an educational innovation" (1996). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9729611.